Amid an ongoing dispute over the District 2 election results (see sidebar, “Handing It In”), the rest of the newly elected Buncombe County Board of Commissioners held its first meeting Dec. 4. Among the new board’s first official actions was setting their compensation at the same rate as their predecessors enjoyed. The unanimous vote placed them among the highest-paid commissioners in the state.
Since February of 2011, Buncombe County Commissioners have made $26,475 per year, including all stipends and allowances. The chair makes $34,989 and the vice chair $30,732. (The commissioners held off on electing a vice chair pending the final District 2 results).
Board Chair David Gantt pushed his fellow commissioners to approve those rates, arguing that the new board members, some of whom had called for general spending cuts during the campaign, don't yet know how much time the job takes. Gantt lamented the fact that no District 2 commissioners had yet been sworn in, noting, "A third of our county doesn't have a voice or a specific seat on the board."
But he also pointed out that unless action was taken, the other commissioners wouldn't be paid at all, saying, "I don't think it’s fair for any of us to work without compensation."
Earlier this year, Commissioner Holly Jones had unsuccessfully urged her colleagues to cut their pay by 17 percent to bring it more in line with what other N.C. counties pay their commissioners. But on Dec. 4, she voted with the rest to maintain the current compensation levels.
District 2 Republican candidate Mike Fryar, who made cutting the salaries a centerpiece of his campaign, has been the most outspoken critic of the prior board's compensation. Although the current District 2 tally showed him having narrowly won a seat, the State Board of Elections hadn’t certified him yet, pending the results of a hand re-count requested by fellow Republican Christina Kelley G. Merrill.
Sitting in the audience during the meeting, Fryar told Xpress that if he’d been sworn in, he would have proposed cutting commissioner salaries to less than $20,000 a year. If he takes office, said Fryar, he’ll bring up the issue again. Fryar triggered a firestorm of media coverage and criticism when, at the Feb. 1, 2011 board meeting, he pointed out that the Buncombe commissioners were the highest-paid in the state. They subsequently cut their pay by $12,400 per year.
In other action, the board unanimously approved:
• A request to rezone 1.58 acres at the intersection of Rowland Road and U.S. 70 in Swannanoa from residential to commercial.
• A request to rezone 3.32 acres near the intersection of Lower Grassy Branch Road and Tunnel Road in Oteen from residential to commercial.
• A request to rezone 5 acres in Leicester, along Johnson School and Old Country Home roads in the Mill Creek condominiums, as higher-density residential development.
Both the Planning Board and county Planning staff had recommended approving all three requests.
In addition, commissioners canceled their Dec. 18 meeting. Their next scheduled meeting is Jan. 15, 2013.
Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at email@example.com.